Letter from the past

Chad Frey
cfrey@thekansan.com
Lowell Joerg of Stockton, Calif., has a bit of a unique hobby -- collecting old postcards and returning them to the cities of origin. He recently sent this 1930s postcard of Newton's Military Park to the Newton Recreation Commission.

Lori Hein’s curiosity turned to delight when she opened a nondescript letter at the Newton Recreation Commission. What she found inside the envelope were a postcard and a letter that sent the historian in her into overdrive.

The letter was from a man named Lowell Joerg, of Stockton, Calif., who has a bit of a unique hobby — collecting old postcards and returning them to the cities of origin.

“I Googled him and found articles by other newspapers in communities who had received these ’redistributions of happiness,’ ” Hein said.

A redistribution of happiness is what Joerg calls his hobby in his letter. Joerg turned 92 in June.

He claims in his letter he paid $6 for the card at an antique shop.

“This card is an old-time classic for sure,” Joerg wrote.

Phil M. Anderson, grandfather of Phil Anderson III, had the postcard printed. Phil M. Anderson, the founder of Anderson Book and Supply 128 years ago, used to have postcards printed abroad, 1,000 at a time.

“We used to climb on that cannon as youngsters,” said Phil Anderson III. “(Joerg) deserves a thank you for this.”

A similar card was printed in about 1912 by Fred Harvey.

When Joerg found it, he wanted to return a 90-year-old postcard showing Military Park of Newton home.

“ ’Time has come round,’ wrote Shakespeare and indeed it has,” Joerg wrote in his letter. ”I was at an antique store some months ago and found this circa 1930 picture card of your beautiful Military Park. Lots of changes, I suppose. I figure you and your friends might enjoy it.“

The card contains a picture of the cannon that still stands in the park at Broadway and Oak. The back contains an April 1920 postmark and a short message:

“You should be out here, you’d have a great time shooting jack rabbits, they use these to hunt them with! — Ruth.”

The card was addressed to Mr. Richard Peck of Herndon, Va. Herndon is a town in Fairfax County, Virginia, in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

“She is talking about shooting jackrabbits, which we don’t have around here anymore,” Hein said.

That was, however, not the most interesting thing to Hein about the card.

“I got interested in who (Richard Peck) was,” Hein said. “It is amazing what you can find. I found his death certificate and his wife’s death certificate. They owned an historic house in Herndon. This (postcard) was sent in 1930, when he was about 24 and before he got married.”

She found his draft card, and that he was a radio engineer when he married his wife. His death certificate lists him as a research scientist for the U.S. Weather Bureau. For the record, he did not marry Ruth, who wrote the card.

“That was what I was hoping for, was that he had married this Ruth,” Hein said. “We really do not know who Ruth is. ... I wonder who it would have been, a relative who was passing through or someone from here who was related to him. He never strayed too far from home.”

The man who received the postcard is now gone and the park has changed since the image was created. Military Park is the oldest park in Newton — established in 1871. The cannon, which is seen on the front of the post card, was installed in 1898 with two sets of cannon balls. Since that time, the park has seen a wading pool and playground equipment come and go, Also gone is one set of cannon balls, which was tampered with by vandals in 2018.

A library was constructed on the northwest corner.

The park is also home to an 1880 locomotive moved there in 1955 and a Civil War Unknown Dead Memorial. “Skipper,” a sculpture commemorating the International Year of the Child, is located at the northwest corner of the park.

Fundraising efforts are underway to construct a new library, which will be located in the 4.44 acre park.

Hein told the Kansan she is contacting the Harvey County Historical Society to see if they are interested in the postcard.

That’s a plan that would suit Joerg just fine.

“Heritage is important to all of us,” Joerg wrote. “Posted up it will create some nice conversation.”

The postcard view of Military Park in 2020.